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In a week when the United States has opposed the establishment of an International Criminal Court but applied pressure through the World Trade Organisation, KEVIN CAREY recalls events in Grenada and concludes that sentimentality can be murderous.
To those of you who have read this story in pieces over the last year, a slight nod of apology, but two events last week, the United States refusal to support the creation of an International Criminal Court and the renewal of the 'Banana War' brought it back to me in the sharpest possible focus.
One evening in early 1979 I enjoyed what was to be my last meal at the Ross Point Inn, Grenada, cooked by Audrey Hopkins, the first great Caribbean chef and the first to write a genuinely fine cookbook of the dishes of the Windwards and Leewards, as opposed to the usual drivel about frogs legs and spiced pork. It was served by Curtis Hopkins who had an unwaveringly judicious sense of when to converse with diners and when to leave them alone. As I was both a regular and solitary diner we had a long discussion, once we were left alone - one could not be too careful even though we both knew most of the stooges - on the ills of the regime of Eric Gairy, petty dictator. The next morning, waiting for the 'red eye' flight to Barbados I was startled by gunfire.
I thought it was a robbery of the duty free shop. We ran for the plane which kept its distance from the terminal, baggage being hurriedly flung down and hauled up. When I reached Barbados I discovered that there had been a bloodless coup in Grenada and that the socialist Maurice Bishop had taken over.
Bishop appealed for foreign aid to the British High Commission in Trinidad, saying that if he did not get it he would have to turn to Cuba, but he was turned down. He appealed to the new American Ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean, Sally Shelton (whose officials had stated at an introductory reception in her honour, which I attended, that there was no difference between socialism and communism) but she turned him down.
True to his word and in the interests of his people, Bishop brought in Cuban doctors and Cuban help to rebuild his crumbling hospital. Grenada, to quote a tiny example with which I was personally involved, had its first ever full-time ophthalmologist in a purpose-built eye unit which Bishop personally opened.
In early 1981 Bishop had a fierce argument in cabinet but ultimately prevailed in persuading a majority of his colleagues that if he did not get American help he would be a prisoner of the growing and growingly militant left wing faction in his populist New Jewel Movement. (I wonder whether there was a conscious Swiss watch joke in there). He went to Washington and was snubbed by the new Reagan administration.
Bravely, for he could have gone into voluntary exile, he went back to Grenada a beaten man, to certain death. Bernard Cord, the head of the militants, overthrew Bishop and then the Americans invaded Grenada and overthrew Cord. Sadly, of all the many buildings they could have chosen for their administrative headquarters, they chose the Ross Point Inn. A small point, admittedly, but one which serves to highlight the gaucheness of the whole series of events.
In a better world the rights and wrongs of the key players would have been tried in an international court of criminal justice but the Clinton administration has gone back on its initial and cautious support. In alliance with China, Libya and Iraq (you can tell a man by the company he keeps) it is standing in the way of a natural development from the temporary tribunals established after wars in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. The only alleged grounds I can find for this stance are that such a Court would abridge the constitutional rights of Americans and leave its forces open to vexatious and malicious prosecutions. As the proposed Court is only a last resort to be applied when countries do not use their own judicial systems to prosecute alleged war criminals - as the United States did, to its credit, after the Mai Lai massacre - both of these grounds are frivolous.
Having turned down an international proposal of weight and transparency, Washington can devote more time to the pressing matter of bananas.
You may recall that Grenada, amongst other tiny Caribbean islands, produces varieties of charmingly curly, petite, succulent bananas. The economies of scale and the steep sides of volcanoes make these fruits uncompetitive with the mass produced, starchy, almost straight bananas of Central America but the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has ruled that such subsidies should not be given to support Grenada and its tiny neighbours.
I need hardly draw a conclusion; the most powerful and wealthy nation ever known in human history does not want to be subjected to international law as a matter of last resort, refuses to pay its dues to the United Nations, reserves the right to invade small countries at whim and is indifferent to their economic ruin.
One would not be so cynical of the high-minded support for the WTO principles if this were matched by an equal commitment to other, more humane, international organisations but there is nothing that the small farmers of the Windward Islands can offer to the Democratic and Republican Party fund-raisers in comparison with the plantocracy of the industrial banana.
Once again, the sentimental protestation of support for the "little man" is nothing but waffle. The jumbo jet runway whose construction (not Cord's coup) was the pretext for the American invasion will bring tourists to Grenada but since when has tourism been good for the little man and since when has serving imported burgers been more satisfying than cultivating your own land?
Washington has also shown its disdain for this much hallowed "little man" by proposing to slap 100% import tariffs on Scottish cashmere goods if the European Union does not cave in over the curly bananas; if that is not a case of "big government" ramming its fist in the face of innocents then I don't know what is.
Of course, bankrupting Scottish workers as a lever for bankrupting Grenadan farmers is just one of those unfortunate pieces of collateral damage; but, then, collateral damage, military or civilian, always destroys the poor and the weak. So much for the "little man".
The sentiment that is simply cloying as it gushes out of Hollywood, like syrup polluting the mineral water of life, turns murderous when it is packaged and hurled by Washington at any David that happens to be in the way. There are all kinds of victimhood in our post-Freudian era but the most nauseating is the Goliath complex, the victimhood of the high and mighty.
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